Shining torch dazzled bus driver moments before fatal accident

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In November 1941 the blackout restrictions were in full operation in Preston as the Second World War raged on.

On the third Tuesday of the month, John Joseph Newton, aged 74, a retired fish and chip shop proprietor, was heading back on foot to his home on Tulketh Brow after conducted some business.

Sadly as he entered the pedestrian crossing at the Garstang Road, North Road and Moor Lane roundabout, disaster struck.

The driver of a single decker Ribble bus heading into town was approaching the crossing and distracted by the flashing beam of a torch.

He swerved his vehicle, knocking down the pensioner. Having felt the bus bump into something, he stopped it immediately and was horrified to discover Mr Newton’s body crushed beneath the rear nearside wheel.

Unfortunately, despite the swift arrival of the ambulance service, nothing could be done to save the victim’s life.

An inquest was opened the following day before the deputy coroner Mr A L Ashton, with the bus driver Harold Holder, of Manchester, telling the hearing how he had been distracted by the flashing torch and in consequence had not seen Mr Newton on the pedestrian crossing. He stated that once he got out of his bus, the apparent torch man had continued on his way.

This man was seen as a vital witness and the inquest was adjourned for a week, with the police appealing for the man to come forward. There was also some debate as to whether in fact the victim had been carrying a torch that was found at the scene, and that he could have flashed it in the direction of the bus as he stepped on the crossing.

When the inquest was resumed, the torch man was still unidentified, but another witness of the accident, Edward Machin, aged 52, a joiner of Arkwright Road, gave evidence stating: “As I got near the roundabout on foot, I saw someone flash a torch, I then heard a crash. As we waited for medical assistance for Mr Newton, the bus driver approached me and asked if I had flashed a torch, which I had not.”

After a brief consultation, the inquest jury brought in a verdict of ‘Death by Misadventure’, with the deputy coroner expressing sympathy for the family of the deceased. He then pointed out the danger of flashing torches at motorists, particularly during the blackout, stating that the beam should always be pointed at the ground.

In July 1942, the widow of the victim, Alice Mary Ann Newton, aged 77, appeared at the Manchester Assizes to claim damages for the death of her husband by suing the Ribble Motor Services Ltd. The plaintiff’s case was that the accident was due to the negligence of the bus driver. For the defence it was claimed that the victim had stepped suddenly onto the level crossing and could possibly have been using a flash light.

Mr Justice Stables, giving judgement for the plaintiff for £293 ( the equivalent of £10,300 these days) and costs, stated: “The fact that I am finding for the plaintiff does not mean there is any suggestion of criminal negligence on the part of the driver.

“I am satisfied that the deceased was killed on a pedestrian crossing whilst possibly using a torch. I am satisfied that the bus was being driven too fast. I am not quite sure if it is the bus driver who is primarily responsible for that. Bus drivers have to keep up to a schedule.”

Sadly, this was the maternal grandfather who I would never have the chance to meet, as for the £10,300 I never saw any of that either.